Sunday, December 5, 2010

Buying happiness this season?

The Washington Post had a column in the Saturday (December 4, 2010) "On Faith" page in the Metro section which caught my eye.  It showed two hang tags which noted:

"The consumer society is constantly tempting us to spend money we don't have to buy things we don't need for the sake of a happiness that won't last.”

The quote comes from Lord Jonathan Sacks of Britain who is the Chief Rabbi there.  The comment was made at an unusual 'Conference on Happiness' held recently at Emory University and described in the article.   At this conference which also included the Dalai Lama, an Episcopal bishop and a Muslim scholar, all spoke of differing views of what goals one should pursue in looking for happiness, yet came to agreement in declaring that happiness is an internal achievement, not one met by goods, material wealth or property.  Happiness was described as coming back from the goodness one sends out to others or when one has achieved an internal goal such as equanimity.  Happiness was also equated with degrees of scale; a cold drink of water on a scorching day brings a happy satisfaction of thirst, but is not to be equated with the happiness of the birth of a child.  Further discussion considered affluence and satisfaction and how while it distances one from humble origins, this often brings worry, little joy and removes the ability to remember and to be thankful.

What does this have to do with politics, one might ask?  I think we are seeing a voting public which is having buyers' remorse regarding votes which have not brought about the change they hoped for.  No matter that the change was ill-defined, and vaguely promised; it was expected to make things better.  When it did not, the voters went to the polls and voted the opposite way from the previous election, or they just stayed home.  This is analogous to the toy being broken and discarded before the charge card bill arrives in the mail.  Instant satisfaction or disruption?  In this era of sound bites and short takes that comprise our news casts, with little objective analysis, is it any wonder that fast solutions are expected?  After all, doesn’t Law and Order solve heinous crimes with complex DNA testing in less than one hour?  Shouldn't our President be able to solve the complex economic mess in 18 months?  It doesn't matter when you are out of work, that the stock market has bounced back, the banks are making more money than ever and business are showing record profits, does it?  But statistics show that they are hoarding the funds and not increasing staff -- does this make sense?  Are they planning on holding out until 2012?

America has always outwardly prided itself on having a populace which works hard, plays by the rules and gets a reward at the end of the day.  Well, somehow we woke up one day and found out that the rules had all been changed and we were the last to learn about them.   Remember when bills were due once a month on the same day of the month -- every 30 days -- it was.  Then credit card companies learned they could make more money if they changed the due dates and had different interest rates on varied amounts due, so that it became very hard to pay on time, then of course one could be charged late fees.  The mortgage you transacted with your neighbor, the banker in your town bank, was sold to some conglomerate which had no interest in assisting you if a downturn hurt your income and your mortgage payment was late.  They could just as easily sell your home to another without adequate notice or due process. 

Is this the kind of change Americans voted for?  Of course not!  Americans just want to have the downward spiral stopped.  The average income for the middle class American has decreased in the last decade or so. Our habit of making the world better for the next generation has been thrown off course.   Despite the fact that here in the DC Metro area, that several of the highest income counties in the nation are where we call home, the rest of the country is still suffering double digit unemployment.  People who thought they were secure have lost their jobs, their way of life, and their homes, often by being caught up in circumstances beyond their control.  They face bleak times for the holidays.  But, even those with jobs are keeping an eye on their wallets.  They know that they must live within their means and want their government to try to do the same.  They know that buying ever more goods and standing in lines on Black Friday does not buy happiness.  They really know that going into debt with on line orders on Cyber Monday or TV shopping at "midnight only" offers is not the answer to their problems.  But what is being offered in return?  The current discussions of extending unemployment versus extending tax cuts for the rich show the increasing divide between the wealthy and the rest of the country.   The wealthy are not losing their homes, even if their business had to be bailed out.  Only threats from the Administration kept the bailed out banks from paying out bonuses with taxpayer's money. They are on track to pay bonuses again this year.  Some of the biggest contributors to Republicans in the 2010 campaigns, now that unlimited monies have been permitted by a partisan Supreme Court, have come from those whose excess funds were reined in after their businesses had been rescued.   When Sarah Palin asks snidely: "How's that hopey changey stuff workin' for ya?".  She hits a nerve, and the inability of the Democrats to provide a reply is not a good omen for the future.

President Obama has inspired many; he needs to show the promise of a better tomorrow, needs to hold out a real sense that happiness is around the corner -- that we are on the recovery road, but he also needs to realize that small minded nay-sayers are out to sabotage his administration and do not care if the country suffers in the meantime.  What would you tell the President to do? 

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